The Cowboy Way

These juxtapositions could stand perfectly well on their own. Unfortunately, irritating onscreen messages about things like fetishism, spectacles, simulacra and mass media interrupt the video. These messages seem obvious, not to mention very tired. Anyone who has gotten this far doesn't need these things spelled out.

More successful, and very strongly recommended, is the other exhibit at the Forum, Action/Performance and the Photograph. Curated by Californian Craig Krull in 1993, this comprehensive collection of photographs documents the development of action and performance art from the late 1950s-1970s.

Because of their temporal nature, most art "actions" and performances exist for us exclusively in the form of photographs. But this exhibit reveals that photography serves more than a merely documentary purpose in action and performance art. Photos become stop-action icons themselves, suggesting the temporality of the performance while contradicting it. By nature, these photographs are contradictions: They embody something that now no longer exists.

This is nowhere better illustrated than in the Harry Shunk photograph of Yves Klein's "Leap into the Void" from 1960, that heart-stopping image of Klein appearing to fall face-first from a building onto a Paris street. The photo catches Klein in midair. We are left to imagine the "before" and the consequences of the "after" of a performance that itself has already passed into the void.

More conventional photo-documentation is also included in this exhibit, including a Hans Namuth photograph of the painter Jackson Pollock in action and a photograph from Chris Burden's 1971 performance "Shoot," in which the artist was shot in the arm by a friend using a rifle. (Ah, the '70s.)

Several groundbreaking feminist performances of the 1970s are also represented, including Hannah Wilke's "So Help Me Hannah" (1978-84), Eleanor Antin's Carving: A Traditional Sculpture (1972), and works by Carolee Schneemann.

This exhibit is one of the best historical surveys of conceptual art I have seen. It is an absolute must-see for anyone interested in contemporary art and theory.

All three exhibits are up at the Forum for Contemporary Art until Jan. 9.

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